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Iraqi Special Operations Forces (ISOF) clashes during an operation to clear the al-Andalus district. REUTERS/Muhammad Hamed(reuters_tickers)
By Isabel Coles and John Davison
MOSUL, Iraq/BAGHDAD (Reuters) - Iraqi special forces pushed deeper into Islamic State-held districts in eastern Mosul and army units fought the insurgents inside a military base in the city's north, officials said during the day on Tuesday.
On Tuesday evening, Prime Minister Haider al-Abadi said the military had begun "movement" against Islamic State in the west of Mosul without specifying what action was being taken there.
Three months after the start of the U.S.-backed campaign, Islamic State has been driven out of about three quarters of the eastern districts of its Iraqi stronghold, ceding large areas along the Tigris River, which bisects Mosul from north to south.
Renewed military progress has been made in the last two weeks, thanks to improved tactics and coordination between different military units, U.S. and Iraqi military officials say.
Advances slowed towards the end of last year as the military tried to avoid hitting civilians, they say, but now the capture of the entire east bank is imminent and will allow attacks in the city's west, still fully held by the militants.
Rapid response units of the Iraqi federal police have secured many southeastern districts along the Tigris, spokesman Lieutenant-Colonel Abdel Amir al-Mohammedawi, said.
Iraq's elite Counter-Terrorism Service (CTS), which has spearheaded advances inside Mosul, holds large sections of the east bank further north from where the federal police operate.
Some Islamic State fighters had fled by boat across the river, taking civilians as human shields, Mohammedawi said.
"They fled the eastern bank for the west, and took women and children," he told Reuters.
Islamic State has fought from among crowded residential areas and witnesses have seen its fighters shoot at civilians in areas they have lost, in apparent efforts to slow the advance of Iraqi forces.
Several thousand civilians have been killed or wounded in fighting since October.
CALIPHATE UNDER THREAT
CTS spokesman Sabah al-Numan said told state television on Tuesday that more than 60 neighbourhoods in eastern Mosul, out of a total of about 80, had been recaptured since the offensive began.
The loss of Mosul would probably spell the end of the Iraqi side of Islamic State's self-styled caliphate, which its leader Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi declared from a Mosul mosque as the militants swept through vast areas of Syria and Iraq in 2014.
The group has carried out a series of attacks elsewhere in Iraq as it comes under increasing pressure in its stronghold.
On Tuesday, a car bomb blast in southern Baghdad killed at least seven people in a mostly Shi'ite Muslim area. There was no immediate claim for the bombing. Islamic State has claimed a number of recent attacks on the Iraqi capital.
Also on Tuesday, CTS forces pushed into the Eastern Nineveh and Souq al-Ghanam districts, both flanked by areas held by Iraqi troops, CTS spokesman Numan said.
Special forces have now taken control of the Andalus and Shurta neighbourhoods, where they were fighting on Monday, he told a Reuters reporter in Mosul.
"Roughly all the eastern axes for which CTS is responsible will be completed and we will announce the liberation of the entire eastern side," he said, but did not specify when.
A separate military statement said the CTS had also seized al-Muhandiseen district, nearly three miles further northwest, a short distance from the river.
In a parallel advance, Iraqi army troops in the north of the city moved into the Kindi military base, and were fighting insurgents inside, an army officer said.
(Additional reporting by Saif Hameed in Baghdad and Stephen Kalin in Erbil; Editing by Louise Ireland)